Social innovation (in a crisis)

Social innovation (in a crisis)
April 1, 2021

What is it like to work as a venture builder at Yunus Social Business? We spoke to Lorelei Logel-Demoulin about her work on a project in collaboration with IKEA Social Entrepreneurship and the Ingka Group. She discussed her experiences and challenges building an ambitious social innovation project during a global pandemic.

Tell us about the project?

Alongside the Ingka Group (the largest IKEA franchisee) and our local partner in Paris MakeSense, we were aiming to address how IKEA could provide sustainable services to customers while addressing some of the pressing social challenges facing the city of Paris. We were looking at the services beyond the stores, so delivery, assembly - and everything else that happens around a purchase.

We started a reflection process with ideation methodologies to bring together IKEA’s main challenges, local social and environmental issues and involve key stakeholders across the business. Through this process, we asked ourselves - what are the main societal and challenges in the business that we are facing but can solve together? We wanted to think big, but to achieve that you have to start small.

Where did you start, with location, problem or partners?

Choosing a single working area such as Paris helped us focus the discussion on concrete ideas instead of fluffy concepts. But the most important part for us at YSB is to really bring together a social issue and a business need -- and I would say this constraint really got the juices flowing!

What was the problem? And how did you decide on the problem to solve?

Paris is a city facing huge inequalities, these were only exacerbated by the pandemic and the increasing difficulties for youth and marginalised groups to access the job market. Access to work is a huge problem, especially job vacancies that are not in the areas where people actually live.

Any tips or techniques to work with that many stakeholders and still produce a socially ambitious project?

Our goal was to immerse all participants into the reality of the problem we were trying to solve, in order to create empathy and align both understanding and objectives for the whole group. Once you have this common understanding, participants can start thinking beyond their business-as-usual frame, and instead map their own expertise to the solution we were trying to build.

What exactly was the outcome of the project?

From these ideation sessions emerged a long list of over 30 ideas that we boiled down to the most two promising concepts. We then went out there to look for potential partners to develop these concepts with us: we wanted to leverage the dense social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Paris and find a partner with the know-how to help turn our idea into a concrete pilot. Once we found Carton Plein and Wero, we defined together what was the best way to get started, and our two pilots were born:

  • The Micro Hub: a services ‘micro-hub’ was tested in central Paris with the social enterprise Carton Plein who hire, train and coach people experiencing homelessness back into society. Carton Plein refurbish and resell waste cardboard collected using electrical bike collection rounds. They train up and provide a space for the employees who receive support in finding their way back into the job market, who also get to earn an income from collecting the waste cardboard.

  • The Training Academy: a vocational training program was set up to train newcomers & refugees in France and support them in finding a job at IKEA. The goal of this tailor-made program was to combine technical training with intercultural preparation, along with practical experience on what working in customer fulfillment at IKEA looks like. This training was designed and run by our partner Wero, who are experts in leveraging newcomers’ talents for the companies that hire them.  

What was your biggest learning or challenge in the process?

I would say that it’s about confronting your idea with the reality of what is achievable. Is this concept viable? Does it actually add value to the social enterprise? Does it reach the beneficiary group we are trying to support? Can we make it work in a business setup? Most of the time, the pilot you end up building will differ from what you initially planned -- you just need to make sure that you are still meeting your goal, both on the social impact and on the business case. That’s why we dedicated special care to our impact measurement system and KPIs, in order to keep us and our partners on track throughout the journey!

How did the pandemic affect the project? Did you have to be more creative?

The day we planned the Micro Hub project opening ended up being the first day of the French lockdown… Which of course delayed the launch since most commercial activities were put to a halt nationwide. But our pilot was somehow even more relevant because of the health crisis: it was a safer, more local option for IKEA customers to receive their products, and the feedback we got confirmed that customers were highly appreciative of the innovative and inclusive service point.

For the training academy, the resilience of the trainees was put to the test since they joined the IKEA stores for their ‘immersion internship’ during the second lockdown. Their mission was different from what was originally planned, and the rhythm in store was more intense than during a traditional month of October. But these hardships only confirmed the quality of the training provided by our partner Wero, and the strength of the trainees, since in the end IKEA offered a job to 86% of them!

So all in all, yes our whole constellation of partners had to wrap their heads around the unexpected circumstances - but really it confirmed the importance and the value of building services that address business needs while creating opportunities for the most vulnerable.

Read more about the partnership here!

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